The Blessing of Justification

 “A good many people think of justification as the first or initial blessing of the Christian life, it’s value ending at that point… Justification is not only the first or initial blessing, but justification carries with it every other blessing of the Christian life, and when a man is justified, he has everything that God has to give." [1]

McClain lists twelve blessings of justification.

1.  Being justified by faith, "we have peace with God."
2.  Being justified by faith, "we have access, by faith, into this grace."
3.  Being justified by faith, we have a standing in grace.
4.  Being justified by faith, we have joy ("we rejoice") "in hope of the glory of God."
5.  Being justified by faith, "we glory in tribulations." Glory is the same word in the Greek as "rejoice". Being justified by faith, we "rejoice ... in tribulations." We have joy in our tribulations. The unsaved man cannot rejoice in his tribulations.
6.  Being justified by faith, we have a hope that "maketh not ashamed."
7.  Being justified by faith, we have "the love of God ... shed abroad in our hearts." We have an experience of the love of God.
8.  Being justified by faith, we have the Holy Spirit. A justified man need not anxiously look for a future time when he will receive the Holy Spirit (but he can be filled and filled again, and he can grieve the Holy Spirit, andhinder his faith walk). This fifth verse is a remarkable verse, for it is the first occurrence in the Book of Romans of the Holy Spirit, and here too the love of God is first mentioned.
9.  Being justified by faith, we have the proof of God' love because "Christ died for us."
10. Being justified by faith, we are going to be "saved from wrath." We have immunity from wrath to come.
11. Being justified by faith, we are going to "be saved by his life." This is no denial of the fact that we have already been saved, but this is looking forward to something else.
12. Being justified by faith, we "rejoice in God." We are not afraid of Him any longer, but we actually rejoice in God. We look at Him, see Him in all His holiness, and we rejoice in Him!

[1] Alva J. McClain. Romans: The Gospel of God’s Grace (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1973), 121.

[2] Ibid., 122.


Favorite Children's Books in 2016

My wife and I try to make books and book time valuable in our home.  Reading is something you get to do after you do the things you have to do. So that means a lot of reading with mom and dad. Or at least we attempt. In no particular order, here are some of my favorite books for our family in 2016. These weren't school books or books. Contrary to the blog title, these books may not have been written in 2016. These were just some of the books I enjoyed reading to my children last year. Did they enjoy them? I think so, but you'd have to ask them.  

Wise Words by Peter Leithart is a book of short stories that bring Proverbs to life.  Each story is captivating and well-written.  The moral of each proverb/story comes through without seeming forced.  I originally hoped this would be a mealtime book. Fail. The stories are too long for that. 

Over several months (and with too many breaks) I read my son N.D. Wilson's book The Dragon's Tooth. It's the first in his Ashtown Burials series. Like many of Wilson's books, this book is too peculiar to try to summarize here. But if you like are looking for a modern-day fantastical novel, my son and I both recommend it. It's intense, supernatural, and even ties in some history. I love how combines world history and fantasy into the story of a brother and sister in Wisconsin.  Warning: Wilson's story-telling is not for the faint of heart.

I collect signed books. A few years ago (and two less children) my wife and I stood in line to have Sally Lloyd-Jones sign our newly purchased copy of Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing. When our turn came she asked who the book was for. We told her our (then three) children's names. "Oh, those sound like movie star names," she said in her lovely British accent. That has nothing to do with the book except to say we love our copy even more. The book is a collection of very short reflections on God's love, prayer, grace, etc. I marvel at Sally's ability to say so much so beautifully in so few words.  

Finding a chapter book that holds my daughters' attention is difficult. I gladly took the recommendation of another dad of daughters and picked up the The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy. There isn't any great plot to follow or morals to learn. I'll remember this book as the first book that captured my daughters attention and had them asking for more.

Of course, Kevin DeYoung's The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings us Back to the Garden (2015) was delightful. The artwork is stunning. The pace of the book is just right. The biblical content engaged the broad age-range of my children. I remember one of my seminary professors commenting on the need for the church to return to grounding itself in the basics. Books and publications, rightfully so, can become so specialized or nuanced over time that the forest is lost for the trees. Over time we can lose our rootedness to the most basic truths of Scripture. I'm thankful for good books like this one that tell the large story of Scripture. You should also check out the animated version of the book!

A Prayer from John Piper

John Piper's message "Subjection to God and Subjection to the State, Part 4" (From July 2005) was a timely and convicting listen for me last week.  More convicting than the message was Piper's opening prayer:  

For all of us gathered now, Father, in this room and the north campus, I pray.  I pray for ears to hear, eyes to see, hearts to feel, minds to understand. And for my own mind and tongue I pray for humility and submission to your word and faithfulness to the truth, and courage to say what needs to be said. 
Lord, you have met us and now meet us still.  Shape us into a people who have a resounding impact for the glory of Christ on America.  Upon government and law and court in America.
O Lord God, let us not be to unduly quietistic, withdrawn, inactive.  Let us be an engaged people, a thinking people, a working people, a relating people, a penetrating people. Like leaven.  Like salt. Like light.  
O God, forbid that we would sit and watch soaps or sit and watch comedy every night and have our minds made small and banal and trivial, empty, feeling nothing magnificent, driven by no great purposes.
O get us free from entertainment, I pray.  And fill us with causes and purposes of eternal things.  Life is so short. O God, come. Liberty your people from the emptiness that is commended to us on signs, newspaper, magazines, television, radio, dumbing down life over and over again to godless, Christless emptiness. 
Lord come.  Do more in this service than we ever dreamed you might do for the glory of your son and the significance of our little, short, fragile, dying lives.  
In Jesus’ name I pray,

From the Bookshelf: Rosaria on Repentance

Having devoured Rosaria Butterfield's first book, The Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert, in one day, I immediately bought her new book the day it was released.  The title Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ aptly describes the content of the book. Some of the greatest little gems of truth scattered throughout the pages have been her thoughts on repentance. The role of repentance in the life of a believer is rarely talked about in recent books on sanctification, which is an unfortunate shame.  But Rosaria's books is full of beautifully written, theologically rich quotes the topic.  Here are some: 

"Repentance is bittersweet business. Repentance is not just a conversion exercise. It is the posture of the Christian" (27).
"Repentance is the threshold to God. When heat meets ice, the solid substance liquifies completely. Repentance liquifies the will of the flesh" (27),
"Repentance is our daily fruit, our hourly washing, our minute-by-minute wakeup call, our reminder of God’s creation, Jesus’ blood, and the Holy Spirit’s comfort" (27).

This was my favorite quote:

"Repentance is the only no-shame solution to a renewed Christian conscience because it proves the obvious: that God was right all along" (27).
"Repentance is a gift from God. And repentance is the daily posture of the Christian, not some one-time Sinner’s Prayer shibboleth. We must never repent of sin in surface ways, like weeding our gardens by snipping the tops off the dandelions" (32).
"When we confess sin, we own it. This means that sin does not come with a defense attorney who provides all of the excuses for why what God calls sin is really a grace in my life" (68).
"When we confess a sin, we are not asking that God or others see it from our point of view, from the vantage point of our intentions or our motives. Instead, we use God’s point of view. We submit to the righteous hand of God. We consent that the Bible is true and that the law of God condemns us. And this either drives us into mad depression or into the open arms of our Savior Jesus Christ…. Confession of sin is meant to drive us to Christ, for our good and for his glory" (70).
"Repentance is how grace flows to the humble heart (James 4:6). Repentance feels like God lifting the weight of conflict of your shoulders. It feels freeing to finally see what you did not see before, and liberating to release anger and shame and self-defensiveness" (90).
"Even when the consequences are dire,it feels glorious to experience that the Lord’s burden is much lighter than that of the world, and his yoke befitting to my nature and capacity. Repentance of sin is an honor that adorns royalty. It is the full expression of Christian liberty, and through the Lord’s forgiveness, repentance rings one singular note: peace” (90-91).

From The Book Shelf: Luther On the Christian Life

Carl Trueman's little article on Luther's Theology of the Cross is one of the best short theology pieces I've read.  I share it with friends.  It's required reading for our interns.  I've read it multiple times. So when Trueman published a full, popular book on Luther (his area of expertise), I promptly started reading it. Perhaps I'll actually review it when I finish.

Trueman consistently argues that although Luther is the famed Protestant hero, he would scarcely recognize Protestants today.  One of the reasons was Luther's sacramentalism.  I expected to read the chapter on Luther's views of Baptism and the Lord's Supper as primarily theological, but--and of course I shouldn't have been surprised--found them immensely pastoral.  Even though I'm not Lutheran on either ordinance.  Trueman's concluding remarks on what can positively be gleaned from Luther's sacramentalism were more than helpful: 

This points to a further implications of Luther's sacramentalism: the nature of the ministry. We saw in the last chapter that the ministry is a ministry of the Word, that God acts through the Word read and proclaimed in the church. To this we must now add that the ministry is also one of sacraments. As the minister preaches each week, so he also administers baptism and the Lord's Supper. It is important to understand that in all this, luther regards God as the agent. The popular phrase of "doing church" is thus entirely inappropriate within a Lutheran framework: Christians do not "do church in any "ultimate or definitive way. God "does" church. The minister--preaching, baptizing, and officiating at communion--is merely an instrument by which God achieves what he intends.
This is surely an antidote to the evangelical church's perennial obsession with the big, the spectacular, the extraordinary, and the impressive. The quest for the next big thing that allows the church to ride the cultural wave, or the technical silver bullet that makes outreach and discipleship so much more effective, would be entirely alien to Luther's way of thinking. Preach the Word and administer the sacraments: that is the minister's calling; these are the tools of his trade and the mans by which is is to address pastoral problems. That they seem weak and ineffective from a technical perspective is irrelevant: their power and effectiveness come from the agent, God himself. 

What I did learn in seminary

“They don’t teach that in seminary!” 

“I wish I had take a class on that in seminary!” 

“I learned more in a year of ministry than three years of seminary.”

“My head grew but my heart shrank in seminary.”

“Don't go! They call it semi-tary a reason!” 

"Seminary isn't real ministry."

I hear phrases like that and can’t help but wonder, "What’s the point of seminary?"  Did I waste five years of my life?  If so many people are running around talking about what they didn’t learn, then is it really necessary?  Does seminary create more problems than it solves?

I don't think so.  For me,  the four and a half years I spent in seminary (I guess I’m a slow learner) were formative for my life, character, and my mind.  Seminary was a safe place to ask difficult questions.  It was a place to develop good habits for ministry, and unfortunately some bad habits.  It directed my academic interests and helped me build relationships with other pastors and professors that continue to this day. It also confronted, as any masters program should do, my priorities of time and money.  So I did learn in seminary.  A lot, actually!

Was my seminary education perfect?  By no means!  But I was far from a perfect student, and I guess I never expected to learn everything there is to know about theology in ministry in a few years anyway. 

So rather joining the chorus of those who decry the shortcomings of seminary education, I’d like to talk about what I did learn in seminary.  Looking back, here are a few lessons I learned that I'd like to elaborate on further.

  •  You have no right to be wrong when you handle the word of God.
  • God breaks those he uses.
  • Proving someone else wrong doesn’t make you right.
  • Practices, not just ideas, have consequences.
  • What it really means to preach grace.
  • All the work I get to do is the gift of God.  
  • And I'm sure there's a lot more to be added to the list.

Vindication for buying books

One of my classes at my church has ongoing book discussions..  We pick books and read them together. We've tried theology, biography, and even a little theology humor.  I sometimes fear that I'm heaping unnecessary burdens on people by asking them to participate in a book discussion (even though it's optional).  "Shouldn't I just focus on Bible reading?" I wonder.   "Do we really have time?"  I ask myself. But alas!  Historical vindication!  While reading Richard Baxter's The Reformed Pastor (a thoroughly timely book and worthy of other posts) I discovered this little gem: 

See that in every family there are some useful moving books, beside the Bible. If they have none, persuade them to buy some: if they be not able to buy them, give them some if you can. If you are not able yourself, get some gentlemen, or other rich persons, that are ready to good works, to do it. And engage them to read them at night, when they have leisure, and especially on the Lord’s day (p. 30).

 I'm in good company when it comes to buying books and reading together.